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Proving a Landlord's Conduct Is Retaliatory

Frustrated person calling the landlord after a water leak

It is illegal in almost every state for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for asserting their legal rights. Under most state statutes, a landlord engages in retaliatory conduct with eviction or harassment. A landlord may not like the renter's actions but can't seek revenge or retaliate.

A common retaliation tactic is trying to evict a renter after they complain to a government agency. This is "retaliatory eviction." A landlord might also try a rent increase to push out a renter after they have made a complaint. This sometimes is "retaliatory rent."

Reporting Your Landlord to a Governmental Agency

Tenants often report housing and safety code violations to local governmental agencies, like the housing authority or health department. Landlords must ensure the tenant's dwelling unit is habitable. It must be safe for human health and safety. Landlords who fail to do so are likely violating the implied warranty of habitability, which is the legal standard for repairs.

Before reporting your landlord or property management company, make a good-faith effort to bring the violations to your landlord's attention. To protect yourself, you send the landlord written notice of the issues via certified mail with a return receipt. The return receipt is proof that you sent the notice.

If your landlord doesn't respond within a reasonable time, you should consider reporting the code violation to the appropriate local agency.

Landlord Retaliation

In a landlord-tenant dispute, if a tenant informs the authorities, the law protects the tenant from specific retaliatory activity.

The kinds of retaliatory acts covered by most state statutes include the following:

  • Increasing the rent
  • Decreasing services
  • Claiming there was no security deposit
  • Ending a month-to-month tenancy or refusing to renew a lease agreement
  • Starting an eviction lawsuit without cause
  • Any retaliatory conduct that amounts to a violation of fair housing laws

A tenant must prove that these actions were in retaliation. That is where state laws against landlord retaliation come into play.

Proving landlord retaliation

State landlord retaliation laws protect tenants from landlord retaliation. State laws can also help you prove landlord retaliation.

Exercising Your Legal Rights

It is illegal in almost every state for a landlord to retaliate against you for acting within your legal rights when you:

  • Complain about unsafe living conditions to a governmental entity (building inspector, fire official, etc.).
  • Sue your landlord or join a lawsuit against your landlord.
  • Join or organize a tenant union.

Proving Landlord Retaliatory Actions

State laws governing landlord retaliation will vary from state to state. In Maryland, for example, the law protects tenants who do the following from retaliatory conduct:

  • File a good faith complaint about an alleged lease violation
  • File a good faith complaint of a "violation of law"
  • File a good faith complaint about any condition on the rental property that is a "substantial threat to human health and safety"

To bring a claim against a retaliatory landlord, the tenant must:

  • Be current on their rent payments unless the tenant withheld rent per local laws or ordinances
  • The reason for the landlord's retaliatory conduct happened no more than six months prior

Relief From Retaliatory Conduct

Tenants who are on the receiving end of retaliatory conduct have options to enforce their tenant rights. One option is a lawsuit in small claims court, which begins with the tenant's complaint. The complaint should explain the landlord's conduct and ask for relief. If you have sustained actual damages, you can ask for that in your complaint. You can also ask the court to assign reasonable attorney's fees to the landlord. Suing a landlord is a high-stakes legal process that can affect your housing stability, so you should consult a landlord-tenant attorney before you sue.

Get Legal Help

If you believe your landlord has engaged in self-help or retaliatory conduct, you should consider speaking to a qualified landlord-tenant attorney. They are experts in landlord-tenant issues and can provide sound legal advice. Speak to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney today.

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